Fri, Apr 06, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Trump not a criminal target: Mueller

LOOKING AT YOU:US President Donald Trump is a subject — someone whose conduct is of interest, but who prosecutors are not certain they have enough evidence to charge

AP, WASHINGTON

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors has informed US President Donald Trump’s attorneys that the president is not considered a criminal target in the Russia investigation, a person familiar with the conversation said.

The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that the president is considered a subject of Mueller’s probe — not a target.

A subject is typically someone whose conduct is of interest to investigators, but prosecutors are not certain they have gathered enough evidence to bring charges.

However, the designation could change at any time.

The development was first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Post.

Trump’s designation as a subject came up as prosecutors and the president’s legal team negotiate the terms of an interview with him.

The president has said he wants to speak with Mueller’s team, but his lawyers have not publicly committed to allowing him to be questioned.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether the president remains willing to be questioned.

In response to a question about the president being a subject, not a target, of the investigation, Sanders reiterated the president’s claim that his campaign did not collude with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We know what we did and what we didn’t do, so none of this comes as much of a surprise,” Sanders said, referring further questions to Trump’s attorneys.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow declined to confirm or discuss the conversations with Mueller, saying: “We do not discuss real or alleged conversations between our legal team and the Office of Special Counsel.”

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment.

The US Department of Justice typically treats people involved in investigations as witnesses, subjects or targets.

Mueller’s determination that Trump is a subject suggests he is more pivotal to the investigation than a mere witness, a designation for someone who has observed events of interest to agents and prosecutors.

“The government will say you’re a subject trending to witness or you’re a subject trending toward target,” said Sharon McCarthy, a former US federal prosecutor in Manhattan.

Although targets tend to be people the government is gathering evidence against with the goal of prosecuting, subjects have a much looser, broader definition.

“A subject means we’re still looking at you,” McCarthy said. “You’re a person of interest in this investigation.”

Still, the import of the designation was not immediately clear. It is not known, for instance, if Mueller’s office has concluded that, at the moment, there is insufficient evidence to consider Trump a target.

It is also possible that prosecutors agree they are bound by a Justice Department legal opinion that contends that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

A grand jury is the way indictments are issued.

Yet, the White House witnesses with the most direct information about Trump’s actions in the White House have spoken privately with Mueller’s team instead of being summoned before the grand jury, a possible indication that their statements are being used for the purposes of assembling a report rather than pursuing criminal charges.

Mueller’s team has signaled that they are interested in discussing several key episodes in the early parts of the Trump administration as they probe possible obstruction of justice.

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